By Emeka Uzoatu
In Greek mythology, Odysseus had to sail home between the shoal Scylla and the whirlpool Charybdis. According to the auguries, he risked losing some of his men if he passed nearer the former, while going the other way would see him lose the entire ship and crew.
Ever since, it has become customary to refer to anybody caught between tough options to Odysseus. Not unlike the protagonist in Frederick Forsyth’s The Devils Alternative had to admit in the statement: ‘Whatever options I take, people must die.’
In Nigeria today, one would be lying to say that we are in a similar condition. Purely quantified, ours must be worse. Yes, for rather than a rock and a hard place, we find ourselves stuck between ‘an accelerating inflation’ and ‘a spiking unemployment’. And much unlike in the Odyssean situation, clinging close to either would tantamount to an equal tragedy.
Before going full tilt, let’s refresh us with the headline/food/core inflation as well as un-/underemployment figures again.
In the most recent report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Headline Inflation in February 2021 stood at a staggering 17.47%, up from the 16.47% of the preceding month.
Food Inflation, on the other hand rose from the 20.57% of January 2021 to 21.79% the very next month.
This left Core Inflation that leaves out the more volatile indices at 12.38% in February, up from 11.85% in January.
Be that as it may, whatever the rate of inflation, people would always get by if they are stably employed. But rather sadly, this does not apply to be the fate of many of our compatriots.
According to the NBS report the National Unemployment Rate as at Fourth Quarter of 2020 was 33.3%, a climb from the 27.1% of the Second Quarter of the same year. Its underemployment counterpart traded at 22.8% and 28.6% percent respectively. Leaving total un/underemployment rates at 40% and 35.2%%.
However the situation is analysed, it promises no silver linings. Not when some of the figures are even seen as manipulable. Going by how belts are being tightened in the country, many are hoping that something gives.
For instance, not many people can place where the fees they pay for their children in school features in the report. This, because as inflation and under/un/employment mounts, these schools see them as reason to increase their fees. Already exorbitant, these further increases could see to a situation where even more children will be forced out of school for their parents’ impecuniosity.
A hungry man is not only supposed to be angry, as the saying ends. He is also easy to buy. With elections ever looming, you can be assured that our politicians will have them to lure in the field. No doubt, with the added hungry mouths waiting at home, he sure wouldn’t mind a free gift from wherever.
Any wonder survival in the country is becoming so uphill a task that so many are opting out. In fact, were it not for the Covid19 factor, more Nigerians would have taken to the Sahara desert than has ever.
Like many have cried, it’s as if those in charge don’t know that the effect of either of these indices alone is a burden enough for a people. So, now with both unleashed on us, the wailing is becoming deafening.
A ready pointer remains the rate at which our cities are littered with derelicts now. Oftentimes one is left a-wondering whether this will ever get to pass. What with the way the situation keeps worsening with each supplementary tick of our national clock. Making many think that perhaps we may have accidentally afixed square characters unto rounded holes under the panic of a stage-managed banditry.
It calls to mind the core lesson Biafrans learnt from the Civil War. Before then the local spice ogiri was the core ingredient of the Igbo soup. Until the food blockade engineered by the then federal government. There and then it became clear that without salt, no soup, however baked and by whom, will stand by its taste.
To make matters worse, some people in the position to intervene are just playing ostrich. Understandably they could bask in the glory of not being worse off yet. But the question of the day remains how long this will subsist. After all, like the bedbug told its children, what is hot today could become cold tomorrow; it ought to be known too that cold today could also turn hot in the morrow of time.
Last last, there is no doubt we are already getting used to bestriding that nebulous threshold between the two indices. Emboldened, in turn, by the age-old belief that what doesn’t kill us strengthens us.
Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom